Saturday, September 27, 2008

Slashdot Does Science

All the cool science stuff was on Slashdot this week, so instead of linking to original articles, I'm going to give them some link love (as if they need it).

We'll start off on Mars, with the news that the Opportunity rover has just been sent on a new eleven kilometer, two year mission. That's a pretty big vote of confidence for a machine that's on day 1663 of its expected 90 day lifespan.

Closer to home, Congress has funded continued development on high energy laser weapons. It's going to be at least a decade before they go into service, so they remain science fiction, at least for a little while longer.

Sometimes, we aren't satisfied with turning the small things from sci-fi into reality. Imagine a large weight/space station in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Now imagine there's a cable running from it to the ground. That's a space elevator. Instead of needing rockets to reach high orbit, now you just need to pull yourself up the cable, which requires far less energy. The engineering challenges are monumental, naturally, but the Japanese figure they can tackle the problem for a relatively paltry $9.5 billion dollars.

And I won't leave you without your energy story this week. It's quite a bit more mundane than the rest of these links, and it's all the more impressive because of it. Those of you who like your automobiles powered by internal combustion may be interested to hear that a researcher at Temple University has created a device that boosts fuel efficiency by ten to twenty percent. It attaches to an engine's fuel line near the fuel injector and uses an electric field to reduce the viscosity of the fuel as it enters the injector. Lower viscosity leads to smaller fuel droplets which in turn produces more efficient combustion. Given the current market conditions, one would think this little dohickey may show up on the market relatively quickly.

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